UA Faculty Win State Biotech Awards

The UA's Michael Cusanovich and Rod Wing and Tucson High science teacher Margaret Wilch took three of six statewide awards given by the Arizona Bioindustry Association.
Sept. 19, 2008
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Margaret Wilch's BLAST Web site

Michael Cusanovich
Michael Cusanovich
Rod Wing
Rod Wing

Three of the six prizes given at the annual Arizona Bioindustry Association awards dinner on Thursday went to two University of Arizona faculty members and a Tucson science teacher with close UA ties. The Arizona Bioindustry Association, or AZBio, is the state's biotech trade association.

Margaret Wilch won the association's Bioscience Educator of the Year Award, which goes to K-12 teachers. Wilch, a biology teacher at Tucson High Magnet School, frequently collaborates with the UA's BIO5 Institute and College of Science faculty. She developed BLAST (Biotechnology Laboratory for Arizona Students and Teachers) with UA Regents' Professor Nancy Moran. BLAST offers summer training in biotechnology for students and teachers and is used by Tucson High students during the school year.

The Flinn Foundation has recognized Wilch's program as one of the best in Arizona. She and her students consistently earns high marks from other organizations, such as the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium and the Southern Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Fair.

"She's a gem of a teacher ... the leading science teacher in the Tucson Unified School District," said Leslie Tolbert, UA vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development.

"She takes special advantage of the proximity of Tucson High to the UA campus and of the close relationships she has built with UA researchers to find laboratory ‘homes' for her students, where they become researchers themselves, pushing the envelopes of knowledge."

Rod Wing, director of the Arizona Genomics Institute, won the Award for Research Excellence from AZBio. Wing, who is also the Bud Antle Endowed Chair for Excellence in Agriculture and Life Sciences and a member of the BIO5 Institute, has earned worldwide recognition for his work in mapping the genomic structures of rice and corn, two critically important food crops. Rice is a staple for the majority of the world's human population and Wing has collaborated with scientists in China and the Philippines to improve crop strains. The United States also is the world's leading producer of corn, which ends up in a number of manufactured products as well as food. Wing's research could eventually lead to new crop strains resistant to disease and drought.

Michael A. Cusanovich, UA Regents' Professor in biochemistry and molecular biophysics, won the Jon W. McGarity Leadership Award from AZBio. Cusanovich, a former UA vice president for research, has championed interdisciplinary research for most of his career. He is the director of the Arizona Research Laboratories, an umbrella for a myriad set of research activities, from the Center for Insect Sciences and the McKnight Brain Institute to the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth and the Neural Systems, Memory and Aging group.

"This was a fantastic outcome for Tucson and the UA," said Tolbert. "In addition, when the bio companies that have been in the state for 10 years and for 17 years were listed, the vast preponderance were in Tucson, making it clear that we are leaders in the bioindustry. Bio is a major focus in broad-based efforts to improve the AZ economy."

Others honored by AZBio included:

  • Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (Public Service Award).
  • Dedicated Phase I, a clinical trial site for many major pharmaceutical development companies (Fast Start Award).
  • Provista Life Sciences, LLC, in Phoenix (Biscience Company of the Year) for an innovative diagnostic blood test for the early detection of breast cancer.